Hardware

Video: Five cool things you can do with a USB flash drive

Bill Detwiler shows you how to get the most from a USB flash drive with tips, like running mobile applications, speeding up Windows, and more.

These days, flash drives are ubiquitous among IT pros and end users alike. They're probably the most convenient way to temporarily store data since the floppy disk, but these pocket-sized workhorses can perform lots of timesaving tasks. During this episode of TR Dojo, I show you just a few of the cool things you can do with a USB flash drive, such as:

  1. Running portable applications and application suites (check out PortableApps.com)
  2. Booting Windows or Linux from the drive (check out these TechRepublic resources, "Create your own bootable USB flash drive for Windows XP", "SolutionBase: Puppy Linux teaches an old dog new tricks", and "Linux in your pocket: Run SLAX from your USB keychain")
  3. Speeding up Windows Vista or Windows 7 with ReadyBoost
  4. Creating a Windows password reset disk with the USB key instead of a floppy
  5. Using the flash drive like a key to lock your computer (check out Predator)

But, flash drives are a double-edged sword. They make it easy to carry around lots of data, but they also make it easy for individuals to walk off with lots of company information.

For those of you who prefer text to video, you can click the Transcript link that appears below the video player window or you can also read Greg Sultz's article, "10 cool things you can do with a USB flash drive," on which the episode is based.

You can also sign up to receive the latest TR Dojo lessons through one or more of the following methods:

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

59 comments
whattheclarkkent
whattheclarkkent

Hey if you need new drives these are some of the best deals I've found. They are at flashdrives-USB. They will last as long as you need them. Well, I mean you have to take care of them. You can't just run your car over them. Good luck!

DKeith45
DKeith45

Problem with BartPE: Following the instructions to make a bootable USB drive was going so well until I launched BartPE... then, Using my WinXP professional Corporate CD from 03/30/2004. Error message: Source files wrong version. File version "E:\i386\ntdll.dll" is 5.1.2600.0 should be 5.1.2600.1045 or higher. You must use Windows XP Service Pack 1 or Server 2003 version of windows! help? This is the only Pro version I have... and since it's a CORP version, doesn't need to be activated nor does it give you a hard time when installing with major hardware changes. Any advice on how I might make this version work with BartPE? I have the SP2 file handy btw.

JimWillette
JimWillette

You can run emulation software like "Mac On a Stick" for fun or to polish your mac support skills in the absence of a real PowerMac, etc. I brought it up and then brought it (as a joke) to my support guy (who really hates Macs) and told him, "I think my windows laptop has a virus!" He laughed.

Ashley mason
Ashley mason

thanks bill, for such a useful things about USB's.

albertspijkers
albertspijkers

I think the use of flash drive as cache memory for portable applications is very cool. Dual boot is very cool! Predator is a cool tool to lock your system! Albert Spijkers IT Consultant DBA Consulting www.dbaconsulting.nl albertspijkers@dbaconsulting.nl

meltond
meltond

Not necessarily "cool" but ... I use a USB stick (actually two in rotation) to carry "offsite" disaster-recovery backups of all the "critical" data on my PC. I used to use DAT tapes but an 8GB USB is cheaper than a 4GB DAT and I don't have to worry about having a drive available to recover in case of a disaster.

Steelers6
Steelers6

I found this gem, SafeHouse explorer will password protect and encrypt your USB Drive without amin rights. This is great because you can use it on any computer thus, you can access your documents anywhere on any computer. Check it out at: http://www.safehousesoftware.com/SafeHouseExplorer.aspx It's 100% free and I've been using it for a long time. Uses 256 Blowfish encryption. Vidimo Se!

ronsonntag
ronsonntag

I thought flash drives had a few thousand erase/write cycle limit. If that's the case, it wouldn't last long as a memory cache device. Can you correct me on this?

Toni Mazur
Toni Mazur

Hey, will this also work with SD Cards? I prefer them as they don't hang off the side of the computer and it's easier to move them about.

rickflores
rickflores

Nice job. Way to go! Good tips. Or, at least got me thinking about how I can use a flash drive for prot apps. Actually enjoyed watching that during work hours.

darrylhadfield
darrylhadfield

I just realized you're from Louisville- I'm up in Cincinnati (gotta change 'columbus'!), and used to live in Madison, IN. FYI, Predator works great when you put it onto either one of those new ultra-small microSD card readers, and leave it on your keychain, or best of all, try this: imakey from LaCie, at http://www.lacie.com/products/range.htm?id=10052 . It's a USB stick, shaped like a key. Nice touch. D.

darrylhadfield
darrylhadfield

For those of you who haven't pushed your UFD ("Universal Flash Drive") to its limits.. I made a trip to my local microcenter and picked up an 8gb USB stick. Partitioned it - the first partition being 4gb... and the remaining split up into several other partitions. After rubbing off "8gb" from the drive, now I have a 'sleeper' security system.. Unless you boot from the flash drive, you'll never see that it's got BartPE, WinXP, and UBCD on it. The first 4gb is there for storage - and if you don't boot from the USB drive, that 4gb shows up as the ONLY partition on the drive. True Story: My BartPE also has the Safeboot utility on it, which my organization uses to encrypt drives.. I was a 'hero in front of the general' when a senior VP's safeboot (older version) fried, and he couldn't get the presentation off of his machine for an upcoming CEO presentation. Using this drive, I booted him into HIS drive, pulled hte presentation onto the data partition, rebooted off the USB stick and into XP - and he ran his presentation that way. I saved the day, saved his ass, now I'm the golden boy. One key item to note: USB sticks aren't forever.. they do fail. Make a gold copy of your new implementation, and keep it somewhere safe - and when the one you're using fails, go make another copy,off the gold copy. :)

QA_In_Vegas
QA_In_Vegas

I shared it with my entire IT department.

rhw199
rhw199

Good tips; funny blooper at the end.

paul.willy
paul.willy

If you download the Windows automated installation kit, the waik help file allows you to make a bootable vista/win7 that uses modern drivers and using the pnputil you can add modern drivers to the store. That is how I installed Windows 7 on my Eee. I mapped a network drive and instaled from there.

legend1222
legend1222

on USB works surprisingly well. ;-)

compdave7681
compdave7681

I have setup a USB Boot drive to load BartPE/UBCD4Win to help in getting rid of those pesky malware/virus apps.

Rob C
Rob C

Could you (or someone) ensure that the Title box is empty. Praxtically all the posts here so far have not typed in a meaningful subject. And I am sure that many others (like me) cannot be bothered clicking every post to find out if we are interested in those posts. PS I nearly fell for it myself, and would have not typed a relevant subject. If it is empty, the 'Add Comment' button can refuse to save the post, until the poster types some subject

Al S
Al S

Very interesting and useful

ZOMBlE
ZOMBlE

awesome! people like Bill give me faith in humanity

kimbaslair
kimbaslair

man, I just love u, u remind me of my late bro, god bless u, u work so hard and I get the rewards...lol, luv the post, and learned something new...thx

3dBloke
3dBloke

Scan it for viruses! But seriously, how about backing up your stuff? Not cool? I have a SanDisk Cruzer flash drive with U3 installed, and its a great way to selectively backup stuff, using "Allway Sync'n'Go". The drive is protected by encryption, too.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

working on another machine. plug in and play the music from the flash drive.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

In the above TR Dojo post, I outline five ways to use a USB flash drive beyond just storing data. Original post: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=1078 Besides the five uses I mention in this TR Dojo episode, what other interesting ways have you used a USB flash drive? Also, flash drives are a double-edged sword. They make it easy to carry around a lot of data, but they also make it easy for individuals to walk off with lots of company information. In my previous TR Dojo episode, I explain how to disable USB storage under OS X and Windows. But, I'm curious about how many organizations actually take these steps. Take our quick poll and let us know if your organization either disables or physically blocks USB ports on PCs. Poll: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=1081

therealjunkman
therealjunkman

Flash memory is written to by 'blowing' 'mini fuses' to flip a one to a zero, (Or vice-verse, I forget) and these DO wear out. According to a magazine article I read recently, newer drives use 'wear leveling' which I take to mean, writing to different areas of the memory to even out the wear and tear, which is supposed to prolong useful life. But I'll bet that if you asked a 100 people randomly off the street, at least 99 of them would think a flash drive is as permanent as a DVD or CD, which them selves aren't always so permanent. (The writable/re-writable sort, anyways) I think most people learned not to leave floppies on the speakers of your stereo system... But this is more subtle, harder to 'see', and not mentioned on the packaging of the USB drives in Walmart or where-ever one buys them. I first learned of this from "Upgrading and Repairing PC's" by Scott Mueller, (Published annually by QUE) and have also read it a couple of times in magazines. If not for those sources, I wouldn't even know it. More people should be making a point of this, don't you all think? 'Cause I don't think I want to see the day someone comes to me and says all their baby pics are on this thing, can I get them back? Junkman

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Rob C, Thanks for the suggestion. I'll pass it along. Bill

The Terminated
The Terminated

While you wait for the fix, click "Print/View all posts" on the right side of the gray "Comments on this blog" bar. You'll see all the responses at once. You can skim the posts and read the ones that interest you without clicking every post.

BrentCole
BrentCole

I agree totally. Meaningful subjects updated by each poster would be the single best improvement to this forum.

althai2000
althai2000

Most new PC can boot with USB. I am using for booting with Ghost and DOS command. It probably needs 2-3 MB. The rest of space, I store the utility software and data.

Aaron Mason
Aaron Mason

Since Linux (and also OpenBSD) can boot off a USB drive, it makes a great platform for running a Linux-based firewall. All you need is the kernel and a functioning user space with all of the commands you'll need, and you're off and racing.

thinkdata
thinkdata

have you looked at Mojo Pac? (http://www.mojopac.com/) (from RingCube) it is essentially a virtual desktop environment that goes one step further than the portable apps. I use it to test new apps before installing them (as a security measure and as a way of cutting down on the list of apps cluttering my PC)

dinosoft
dinosoft

I used a USB flash drive as a game deck with a Nintendo, super nintendo, game boy well just every game deck up to and including a Playstation 1 emulator with well over 1500 games (nes & snes). It boots up to the MIME emulator and has all the games stored on the flash drive. I am currently trying to incoporate a flash drive into a snes type of controler so that I can simply pluge it into a usb port and boot up and have a game deck with tons of games

bsadyvt
bsadyvt

is there additional benefit if you already have your computer set up with whole disk encryption?

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

BartPE and Win XP Install for a netbook.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

While I haven't done this, I heard of it being done. Because flash drives are physically small students once again say, "The dog ate my homework!"

marys922
marys922

I didn't want my daughter parked at my computer playing her Sims3 game. We bought a USB stick and downloaded the game to it. It has worked out fine and she can use it on any computer. The only difference we see is how the game opens. She has to go into a file on the drive, but she knows which one and doesn't have any problem. I'm not sure any kid has a problem figuring out how to get a game open, lol.

mhbowman
mhbowman

1. We have images created for Windows and Unix devices stored on USB. It's quick and makes it easy to update when the images change. 2. Apply fixes and utilities to devices in the field that don't have connectivity. As long as the hardware checks out, we may even reimage the device as opposed to spending to much time on it. 3. Virus removal. Much of the malware today will ID a malicious file as a required system file. Stopping the file shuts down Windows. I work around this by booting from USB, and then running antivirus and spyware removal programs stored on the USB key. It takes Windows completely out of the process and really speeds things up. 4. File transfer whether it's taking something home to work on, or backing up personal files on a PC that's being replaced. 5. Entertainment - Take additional music, or ripped movies on a trip and not have to worry about my CD's or DVD's getting lost or damaged.

richard.beebe
richard.beebe

Good suggestions here (and on the original list of 10). I combined the suggestion about putting Windows7 installation on a flash drive with the trick about deleting /sources/ei.cfg. Now I have a bootable USB flash drive that I can install any version of Windows 7 from. I also carry around a bootable version of Xubuntu linux with a full suite of network diagnostic tools, sniffers, iperf, etc. I also have backup software on there so I can backup a hard drive without booting the OS. Handy in case the machine has been compromised. But ReadyBoost was a bust for me. Since it was going to be so great, I stuck a 2GB drive in the back of my desktop computer (which isn't easy to get to) and enabled it for ReadyBoost. Everything went swimmingly, although I'm not sure I could detect any real speed improvement. That is until the next time I rebooted. The machine just hung. Turns out it was trying to boot off the ReadyBoost drive even though it wasn't really bootable. I either had to yank it out or go into the bios and disable USB booting. Neither was worth the trouble for the minimal, if any, speed boost so I abandoned ReadyBoost. There's probably a solution to that and if I'd seen dramatic improvement, I'd be looking for it. --Rick

HammertimeCAT
HammertimeCAT

no more pics in my wallet, pop in the flash drive and show lots of pics of the kids.

bhammer
bhammer

what kimbaslair, middleton_38 and ZOMBIE said!

aikimark
aikimark

Bill An early alternative to portable apps is storing your IE favorites on a thumb drive. This is still one of my favorite thumb drive uses.

cory.schultze
cory.schultze

I use one to store all my drivers on, just incase something goes wrong or I want to start again. I also use one as a portable music store, it's far more versatile than an iPod. Another use: Use the gubbins from an old 512 MB stick, shove a hole in it, put it on your keyring.

kosimov
kosimov

I am unaware of this particular mode of operation of a flash memory. Could you tell me where I can learn more about it? I thought flash used a type of EEPROM type technology....

brad.giannini
brad.giannini

I've had both the CDR/W and store bought CDs fall apart into 2 halves. Really old CD from the early 80s (yes they've been around that long!) are starting to have the glues that keep the 2 halves together dry out and come apart. Think if it kinda like scotch tape that's been on something for a few years, it's on there, but if you touch it it kinda just falls off. This is worse with the cheapo CDRs that people used for permenant storage of Data/Pictures.

Broosbee
Broosbee

Never thought of that. Cool. Thanks

DKeith45
DKeith45

I'm currently experimenting with Mojo Pac... nice so far... thanks for the info! Great for personal use. But not good as a diagnostic tool as you can't see the host systems primary partition.

therealjunkman
therealjunkman

I have three daughters in school, from high school all the way down to grade school. Believe me when I tell you, it already HAS happened. Not to my kids, they are more careful than that, but they have known fellow students to claim this, and at least once, I have seen with my own eyes the 'left overs' of a memory card a dog pulled out of a computer card reader slot with his teeth. I replaced both the card, AND the dog! New dog only eats the cat's food. (Yes, before I get slammed, there were many OTHER issues with that particular dog, eating the memory card was the least of it) I also know of at least one teacher, my neighbor, who says she has heard of a student telling her that it happened. In this case, I would believe it was true, as it was a good student not prone to being late with assignments. Junkman

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

I've only pulled a flash drive out of the washer, never dog doo.

paul.willy
paul.willy

I use my sd reader w 4G type 6. It is configured for readyboost and readyboot. I found the biggest difference in readyboot, sd in ~46sec, sd out ~1 min 18sec.

Bob N.
Bob N.

I have dedicated 4 GB of an 8 GB Class 10 SD card for Ready Boost on an HP 1101 Mini with 2 GB of system RAM running Windows 7 Ultimate and I can say that there is very definitely a performance boost in that scenario. I don't have any benchmarking software to cite but the system is far more responsive with the addition of the SD card. The 1101 Mini is so snappy now that I leave my HP workstation notebook home when I go to a conference and I simply take all my notes in One Note on the netbook. When I have a chance it will be interesting to see if there is any improvement on the workstation notebook running the same OS when I stick the SD card in it. It has 4 GB of system RAM so the difference might not be as noticeable.

richard.beebe
richard.beebe

Yes but that was Vista. It's supposedly improved in Windows 7. The machine I tried it on has 4GB of memory so it seems I don't need ReadyBoost. I'd like to see those guys repeat their test with 7. I tried portableapps.com, mentioned in the video, last night. Very nice. Now I have _another_ USB flash drive to carry around with me. One of the things I look for when I buy them is a flat surface that I can stick a label on. Many are almost impossible to label.

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